The Reverend Skilton, the Congregationalist Minister for Stoke sub Hamdon, announced on 4th September 1914 that he had been to the War Office and volunteered as a Chaplain.
In May 1915, he left for the Front, after receiving from his congregation a purse of gold and a pocket bible. He told them that he hoped to get in touch with the Stoke men at the front and render them any assistance in his power.
He carried out his promise, and there are several reports of the Reverend Skilton having visited in hospital men whom he had known in the village. This is a letter he wrote to the parents of young Archie Thorne, after Archie had had a "whiff of gas", in May 1915;
Dear Mr & Mrs Thorne
You will be delighted to hear that I met Archie today. He had a whiff of gas last Monday - nothing very much- but he was sent to No .10 Casualty Clearing Station to rest.
This station has some tents in a field opposite this place and Archie recovered and was sent there. Fortunately he saw me pass today and asked an orderly to tell me. I was delighted to see him. He is quite well with the exception of a little weakness.
It was strange to meet him so far away from England and so near the fighting line. We had a good talk about the other boys.
Archie is full of courage and in spite of what he has seen is still ready to do his duty. I have given him my address, and asked him to write me. He may be sent away any hour but whether to his regiment or to the Base I am not sure.
But you can take my word for it that he is all right. With very kind regards, yours sincerely, Edward Skilton CF
P.S. I will let you know when he leaves here.
This is Archie's account of their meeting in a letter to his parents dated 30th May 1915. In an attempt to prevent them worrying about him, he makes no mention of having been gassed.
To my dear Mother, Father, Sisters and Brothers,
Just a line to let you know how I am getting on. Pleased to say I'm fairly well considering (now don't worry) I have been in hospital about a week now and am getting on A1 Buff. I should have wrote before only you know when anyone's rough they don't feel up to writing, do they? I was what you call run down but I'm a lot better now. I can't put my address, as I don't know how long I shall be stopping here. I will drop a line again tomorrow. I saw the Rev Skilton last night - wasn't he pleased to see me. He was so nice. He brought me some oranges, fags and matches, and is coming across again this afternoon, I think. I hope dear Mother you are all well. I can't write a lot now. I will try and write again tomorrow. So long for now (don't worry). Best love to you all.
Your Loving Son and Brother, Arch xxxxxx
Archie wrote to his father on 16th June, 1915 - to try to allay his Mother's very natural anxiety on learning that he had been gassed….
Dear Dad, I wish Mother would not worry about me so much. She ought not to because if I was home she wouldn't like to hear her boy being called a coward or a slacker, would she? No, I am sure she wouldn't. You tell Mother that I don't worry. Of course I should like to see you all and I believe that by asking God to help me and putting my whole trust in Him that He will bring me back safely to you all one day. It's no good worrying, is it bad? It's like you say, I would rather be out here doing a bit than be home looking on. If everybody was to do the looking on, where would England have been today, far worse than Belgium, and I may say no pen or picture can describe the sight of seeing women and children and old men leaving their homes. It is the most pitiful sight that anyone could see. I have seen it and more than once and I have thought to myself what would they do if they got to Stoke, and then I have stopped thinking and looked again at those poor people, somebody's mother, or father, somebody's sister, or brother, somebody's sweetheart. Go, it makes one's blood boil to see it….
Early in 1916, Archie was promoted from Corporal to the rank of Sergeant because of 'conspicuous bravery in throwing a live bomb from the trenches and thus saving the lives of his comrades'
Archie died in France on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He is remembered on the
Monument on the top of Ham Hill, and on a tablet erected by his parents in the Church at Stoke sub Hamdon:
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
Archie and his Sweetheart. We don't know her name.
Surely he must have carried this lovely photograph of her when he was in France.